The Festival of Baisakhi

Activity at the SikhSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... GurdwaraThe gurdwara, “the gateway of the Guru,” is the place for community gathering and worship in the Sikh tradition. The Guru is the Adi Granth, the sacred scripture of the Sikh tradition. Each center will include a chamber where the Adi Granth is kept, a... of Greater Chicago in Palatine, Illinois begins early in the morning on BaisakhiBaisakhi is held on the first day of the lunar month of Baisakh, which falls in the month of April. One of the main events of the day is the raising of a new Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. Baisakhi also marks the anniversary of the first initiations into th... day as families arrive with bags of groceries to begin preparation of the langarLangar is the communal meal shared by Sikhs and all visitors to the gurdwara. For Sikhs, eating together in this way is expressive of the rejection of the Hindu caste system to reaffirm the equality and oneness of all humankind., or communal meal. As the early morning prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. begin, those in charge of the preparations begin work in the kitchen. Thousands will come to the gurdwara today—from the Chicago area Sikh community and from all over the midwest. Here, as in gurdwarasThe gurdwara, “the gateway of the Guru,” is the place for community gathering and worship in the Sikh tradition. The Guru is the Adi Granth, the sacred scripture of the Sikh tradition. Each center will include a chamber where the Adi Granth is kept, a... throughout the U.S., SikhsSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob... make preparations in the kitchen for feeding hundreds, and in some cities thousands, of visitors. Sikhs who live in remote locations and are not able to attend a gurdwara regularly will drive for hours to celebrate Baisakhi with other Sikhs. All visitors are greeted and invited to partake of langar.

Baisakhi is the most important celebration of the Sikh year, held on the first day of the lunar month of Baisakh which falls in the month of April. It is the time of the traditional spring harvest festival in the Punjab. In AmritsarAmritsar is the city in the Punjab in northwest India that is the historical and spiritual center of the Sikh tradition. In 1574 the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das, established the town and had the “Lake of Nectar,” Amritsar, dug at its center. The ma..., the Sikh center in the Punjab, Baisakhi is a great pilgrimage day on which Sikhs come from all over India to the Golden TempleFrom 1581 to 1603 Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru, oversaw construction of the Darbar Sahib, the great gurdwara at Amritsar. Darbar Sahib means “Divine Court.” After completion of the present structure in the early 19th century, the gurdwara became po.... In America, however, Sikhs assemble from near and far at the gurdwara.

In Fairfax, Virginia the parking lot of the new suburban gurdwara fills up in the evening for the celebration of Baisakhi. Families have come in their best clothes—suits and turbansSikh men wear a turban and Sikh women wear a long head scarf known as a chunni in fulfillment of one of the basic vows taken when joining the Khalsa (the order of committed Sikhs)—to leave the hair uncut as a sign of complete dedication to God. This is ... for the men and for women the silk salvar (loose trousers) with the long colorful silk print kamiz (shirt-dresses) and the transparent long scarves, called chunnis, draped over their heads. The shoe racks are full at the rear of the gurdwara. The singing of kirtanIn the religious traditions of India the term kirtan refers to singing the praises of God in communal worship. is well underway.

What actually takes place on this day, however, is almost identical to the rites observed in the gurdwara at any other time—the singing of hymns from the Guru Granth SahibAdi Granth means literally the “First Book.” For Sikhs, the three thousand hymns (shabads) contained within its pages are the Word of God. Before the death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, he invested the Guruship not in a human successor, but in the scr..., the singing of kirtan, the receiving of prashadFor the religious traditions of India, prashad or prasadam refers to God’s “grace,” especially as received in return for the gifts that have been offered in puja. In the Hindu tradition, after the offerings of water, fruit, flowers, and the oil lamp..., and the sharing of the langar. Today, however, everything takes on a special hue. The crowd is larger. The dress is more festive. Specially trained Sikh musicians, called ragis, may be brought from the Punjab especially to sing kirtan on this holiday. In addition, many other Sikhs lead the shabads, especially youngsters who have practiced for months for this opportunity. In the congregation, they nervously await their turn to sing before proud parents and family.

Some communities, like the Sikhs of Sacramento and New Orleans, also rent a hall for a special Baisakhi cultural program. There is a pageant of folk songs, dances, and skits. Teenage boys perform the Bhangra, a folk dance of the Punjab. The girls and women perform the Gidda. There is a talent show, complete with trophies. This is also an occasion for special speakers to address the congregation, discussing issues ranging from religious themes to the political issues of the day. Because the community turnout is so great, Baisakhi is also a popular time for the election of gurdwara officials.

For Sikhs, the celebration of this holiday recalls another new beginning: the formation of the KhalsaGuru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, created the Khalsa, the “alliance of the pure” in 1699. When a Sikh comes of age or is ready for a greater level of commitment, he or she joins the Khalsa through the special initiation known as “taking amrit...., the special company of the faithful to which all initiated Sikhs belong. The Khalsa was founded by the tenth Sikh guru, Gobind SinghGuru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) was the tenth Guru of the Sikh tradition. He is primarily known for establishing the community of Sikh initiates called the Khalsa and for installing the Adi Granth as his successor, thereby closing the line of Gurus.. “It is the birthday of the Khalsa today,” Sikhs will say. And, indeed, Baisakhi in the U.S. is often the time for initiation into the Khalsa. The initiation rite called khande di pahul, or “taking amritAmrit means “immortal nectar,” and “taking amrit” is a term used for initiation into the Khalsa, the order of fully committed Sikhs. A bowl of water with sugar crystals is stirred with a double-edged sword, while sacred hymns are recited, infusing...,” frequently takes place on this day, the anniversary of the first initiations.

One of the main events on Baisakhi is the raising of the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. The huge flagpole must be unbolted and lowered as scores of men and women support its weight, and others sing shabads. The flagpole is then washed and the new flag is installed. The wrapping cloth of the flag extends down to the base of the platform, and is fastened with ties of the same orange color as the flag. The new Nishan Sahib is raised as people shout the Sikh slogan “Jo Bole so Nihal,” “Who says this will be exalted!” Each is answered with the affirmation of what it is that needs to be said: “Sat Sri Akal!” “GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. is Truth!” In all, Baisakhi is a joyful and festive occasion.


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